The big news story on Christmas Day 2009 was about a man on a plane who was reported to have an explosive device in his undergarments, which he tried to detonate. Fortunately, he didn’t succeed in what seemed to be a deliberate attempt to kill and maim and terrorize. But his actions did cause mayhem and disruption on a grand scale as thousands were affected by the incident and its aftermath.

Another story, a few days later, that was almost as famous was about another man. This one inadvertently caused similar mayhem and disruption when he ducked under a securty rope at an airport in an apparent move to give his girlfriend a last goodbye kiss.  His actions were caught on security camera video tape for all the world to see  (Here’s the story.)

What struck me about the second story was how it clearly showed that one person’s actions can have far-reaching and even global impact without the person being aware of it. That one impulsive move resulted in shutting down Newark Airport for six hours. Thousands of passengers were stranded. The effect spread outward, reverberating around the world as international arrivals and departures on several continents were thrown into disarray. There were stories of a man in Norway missing his anniversary dinner with his wife in Virginia, a granddaughter in one part of the world unable to get to her 82-year-old grandmother’s birthday party in another, students missing classes, businessmen missing meetings, and on and on and on. All because of one goodbye kiss!

Clearly, those who intend to inflict widespread violence know the power of one person’s actions to affect the many. However, while terrorists actively seek to grab the world’s attention; this guy seemed to have no idea what he’d done. He went home and went to sleep; he didn’t have a clue until someone from the FBI knocked on his door.

It makes you wonder. If it could happen to him, then maybe it’s happening to the rest of us all the time. Maybe, in any given moment, we’re all impacting thousands of lives around the world with our actions (either positively or negatively), but we’re totally unaware of it. Maybe all those clichés are actually true: it’s a small world, we’re all connected, and so on.

Maybe angel-in-training Clarence from the movie It’s a Wonderful Life was right when he said, “Each man’s life touches so many other lives.” In the film, George Bailey learned he had unknowingly helped many people — some were halfway around the world. Maybe we are doing that, too, but there are no guardian angels in training and no airport security cameras around to inform us of the effect of our good deeds. And if, like George, we can be a force for good without even being aware of it, imagine what we could do if we consciously acted with good intentions toward others near and far.

It’s something to think about.

(Watch this excerpt from “Its a Wonderful Life.”)


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